Op-Ed: The Succession Question

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubandeswar: Chief minister and Biju Janata Dal supremo, Naveen Patnaik has sought to seize the high moral ground by categorically asserting that no one from his family would succeed him in politics. He has also made it clear that his successor would emerge from within the party.

That, however, is easier said than done. Despite the strong organisational base it has built in the state during the last two decades of its existence the BJD largely remains a one man party with Patnaik’s public persona as its fulcrum. He is not only its supreme but also its sole leader.

He is the fountain of all power with decision making highly centralised. The party may be structured democratically but it does not function that way. The overarching personality of the supreme leader makes all other leaders, irrespective of their age and experience, look unimportant. They are there only to carry out orders.

The top leader having established his supremacy by winning five successive elections for the party cannot be challenged. The leaders in the supporting role, mostly handpicked by him, realise that he is the sole mascot of the party and has never failed it. Their own electoral fortunes depend on him.

There is, thus, too big a gap between them and him. There lies the danger. Any such party runs the risk of collapsing once the top leader disappears from the scene. Overdependence on any one leader, irrespective of his or her success rate at the elections, can prove to be the undoing of a political party in the long run.

It is significant to note that like his father, Biju Patnaik, who was twice the chief minister of the state, Naveen, too, has never made any conscious attempt either to groom a successor or a second line of leadership in his party. His father, a liberal who gave leaders working under him a lot of freedom to create their own space in public life, perhaps did not think it necessary.

In Naveen’s case he has so far not shown any inclination to groom a second line of BJD leaders capable of taking over from him when required. But creation of a second string leadership is important to ward off a crisis like the one that had erupted in the state Janata Dal upon the death of Biju Patnaik in 1997.

The party had so many well known leaders at the time but none appeared capable of taking over the mantle of Biju Babu, the colossus who had become even bigger in his death making all his Janata Dal companions in the state look like pygmies.

With the question of succession staring them in the face state Janata Dal leaders turned to Biju Babu’s family for help and Naveen Patnaik was practically forced to fill his father’s shoes. The rest is history.

With his father’s example before him Naveen, who appears reluctant to announce a successor, would do better to at least groom a bunch of BJD leaders who can keep the party going even when he is not there to preside over its destiny.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)